13 February 2003
Though a war with Iraq is not certain, no one doubts that it is a possibility.
Israeli defense officials estimate they will be able to give a three minute warning before Iraqi Scud missiles strike Israel.
So far it is not certain Saddam Hussein has the capability to launch such attacks again, but experts in Israel agree that if he does he will try to use it against Israel.
Recent newspaper articles have examined in detail the characteristics of the Iraqi missile arsenal and the countermeasures deployed against them. Israel is counting on its new Arrow anti-missile system, which it believes has a 90 percent chance of intercepting high-flying Scuds.
American and German Patriot missile batteries have also been set up. They are to be used against missiles penetrating Israeli airspace on a low trajectory as well as against attacking aircraft.
Once sirens are activated, radio and television stations will broadcast the code words "Iron Shield" notifying the public that an attack is under way.
The Israeli government has also handed out special emergency preparedness booklets that explain how to seal off rooms against chemical or biological agents. Israelis are being advised to stock up on food, water, batteries, and first aid kits.
Israelis have lined up to get gas masks and stores are reporting heavy sales of some emergency items. But, there are also indications that Israelis are taking these precautions in stride.
A poll published by the Haaretz newspaper shows that, while there are concerns about a war, most Israelis are more concerned about suicide bombings than the consequences of American military action in Iraq.
The survey shows that only a little more than 12 percent of Israelis worry most that Iraq might fire Scud missiles at them, as happened in the 1991 Gulf War. But about 43 percent say suicide bombings are their biggest concern.
Israeli officials say they believe the chance of missiles reaching Israel is "very low," but the survey found that 43 percent of the public believes that it will happen and most believe the missiles will have chemical or biological warheads.
Also of note, the survey found that at least a third of those questioned do not believe the gas masks they have been issued will provide adequate protection in the event of a chemical or biological attack.
And, many Israelis seem to have adopted a fatalistic attitude toward what may befall them in the case of war. More than 30 percent say they do not plan to go into a shelter or safe room in the event of a missile attack.